It was a hopeful speech in a striking setting. On March 21, the first day of the Afghan New Year, Afghan Vice President Abdul Karim Khalili—a regal looking man with wireframe glasses and a salt-and-pepper beard—addressed a crowd of hundreds gathered at an ornate, blue-domed mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan.
In his speech, Khalili declared an end to decades of religious and ethnic violence. ‘We are going toward the light. We are never going back to the dark,’ he said. ‘We are going to start a new chapter.’
To that end, ‘the opposition should join the peace process to save the country.’
In security terms, Khalili was describing what is known as ‘reintegration,’ a word that can mean slightly different things depending on the context of the conflict it applies to. In Afghanistan, for example, a handout for soldiers published by the US-led International Security Assistance Force describes reintegration as ‘enabling local communities to welcome former insurgents back to Afghan society.’
Reintegration efforts have played a key role in the resolution of numerous conflicts across the globe. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, which from the 1990s suffered one of the world’s bloodiest wars, President Joseph Kabila invited combatants to stop fighting in exchange for jobs in the country’s security forces. Tens of thousands accepted the offer—and major combat has faded, partially as a result of this amnesty.
Colombia, Thailand, and The Philippines have also successfully reintegrated large numbers of former rebels.
President Hamid Karzai clearly has similar hopes for Afghanistan. On several occasions, Kabul has sponsored half-hearted reintegration programmes, most of which apparently amounted to little more than pro-Karzai propaganda campaigns. Around January 2010, Karzai tasked one of his advisors, Masoom Stanekzai, with overseeing the new and more coherent Afghan Peace and Reintegration Programme, which was meant to guide Kabul’s appeal to, and reception of, former combatants.
The programme officially launched on July 1. The US government, clearly recognizing the initiative’s importance and potential, pledged $100 million toward its cost. Some of the money would fund the Stanekzai’s bureaucracy in Kabul; the rest would pay for ‘development…provided to communities to enable them to accept insurgents back,’ according to the ISAF handout. Presumably, that development would include jobs for former insurgents (although whether in local security forces or the civil economy is unclear).
All wars are fought at three levels of increasing breadth: tactical, operational, and strategic. With insurgents planting at least 1,300 Improvised Explosive Devices every month, and with ISAF forces controlling the sky, the Afghan war has become a tactical stalemate. On the operational level, ISAF’s inability to seal the porous border with Pakistan means insurgents possess safe havens and can sustain their resistance indefinitely.
All this means that the coalition’s only hope is for a top-down, strategic settlement—a truth British Army Maj. Gen. Philip Jones acknowledged at a press conference announcing the reintegration programme. ‘There will be no enduring military solution to the insurgency in Afghanistan,’ Jones explained. ‘Only an enduring political process…will assure the future of Afghanistan.’